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Product Reviews

This page contains audio magazine reviews of some of the equipment on offer from Last frontier Audio. For additional reviews of ..

AVM

PA 8.2 with SA 8.2 - HiFi Plus, March 2014

From the outside, the AVM Ovation Series PA 8.2 preamp and SA8.2 power amplifier look like any other big and beefy high-end duo, in the manner of true Americana, but with a softly spoken German accent. Appearances can be deceptive. This is an extremely flexible and modular design, which pulls inspiration from the computer industry every bit as much as it does from the best of audio. When you look a little closer at the pair of AVM models presented here, you see the kind of screwless polished and anodised aluminium case and build quality that looks more like aircraft engineering than audio design. The fact AVM goes the extra mile is evidenced by it even making its own valves – now that’s dedication.

Of course, when you compare the AVM amplifiers to a rival (small or large) you’ll discover that it is as dynamic as the best of them, it’s just that it places so great an emphasis on neutrality (places and emphasis on not placing an emphasis, you might say) you aren’t drawn to a single aspect of the performance. In fact, when it comes to dynamics, ‘more’ often means ‘uncontrolled’, a more extended bass line or a more ‘liquid’ treble means colouration and a more detailed presentation means 'etched’. You’ll probably note something negative down about the AVM amps when listening, but when you go back to your own amplifier system, you’ll find the root cause of that negativity was it not overstating an aspect of performance that your current amps are overstressing.

MA 8.2, Stereophile March 2017

The Ovation MA 8.2 is a fully balanced, push-pull design that contains 24 N-channel and 24 P-channel MOSFETs, each device theoretically capable of outputting 18A max before self-destructing. Inside each monoblock are two heavy, 1000VA toroidal transformers, two smaller, 120VA transformers, and a fifth, standby transformer that powers the MA8.2's standby circuitry. Transformers for the input and driver stages are kept as far from each other as the amp's interior allows.

As I played CDs, SACDs, and high-resolution files, the first thing that struck me about the MA8.2s was how clean, clear, and neutral they sounded. Listening to "Bahia Com H" and "Insensatez," from Entre Amigos,by bossa nova singer Rosa Passos and double bassist Ron Carter (CD, Chesky JD247), left me marveling at the transparency of the sound, as well as the ability to hear the different acoustic envelopes around Passos's voice, Carter's bass, Lula Galvão's guitar, and Paulinho Braga's percussion. I felt I could hear the natural beauty of each musician's "voice," without added warmth or sweetness. The AMVs' control of the bass was exemplary.

"What a gorgeous sense of space, with such beautiful tonalities," I wrote in my listening notes upon playing, through the AVM amps, John Atkinson's recording of the male vocal ensemble Cantus performing Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque, from the group's While You Are Alive (CD, Cantus CTS-1208). "These amps really capture how these voices sound in this acoustic." Dynamic swells were convincing, and all vocal ranges were perfectly balanced, the high tenors floating beautifully above the rest.

If your priorities in sound include precision, speed of attack, exciting dynamic contrasts, a truthful presentation, and tonal neutrality that allows a recording's inherent beauty to sing, you owe AVM's Ovation MA8.2 monoblocks a long listen. Most highly recommended.

CS 8.2, HiFi News, May 2018

The more I listened to the Ovation CS 8.2, the more I appreciated its sonic virtues in the context of the many high-end network players and amplification I have enjoyed over the years. Any initial doubts about the smooth, rich sound here soon dissipate when you stop making listening a forensic activity, and instead let yourself enjoy the music, for the way this system delivers what you’re playing or streaming is highly persuasive.

The CS 8.2 presentation is hugely satisfying, deceptively easy to enjoy and above all entirely musical. Throw into the pot the flexibility on offer, and the indisputable quality of build and style, and this is a product perfectly suited to its target market – and really rather special.

PA 8.2, The Ear, May 2018

This AVM PA 8.2 is unusually good at revealing the fine details of everything you play, separating out the various elements within a mix so that it’s easy to appreciate just what everyone is doing. Which means that when you want to play something intense or complex it won’t get muddled in the way that so many preamplifiers do.

I was using a Chord DAVE DAC at the time I decided to see if it would be beneficial to bypass the AVM and use the DAC’s onboard volume control which is no slouch, but the small improvement wrought by the change suggested that the PA 8.2 does very little to undermine transparency which is quite an achievement given that this jump removed a length of interconnect and a fair amount of electronics.

This is an extremely well made and finished piece of kit with a degree of flexibility that’s rare in the high end, I suggest you treat yourself to a dem.

CS 2.2 HiFi Choice July 2017

One of the best things about this little one-box CS 2.2 system is its sheer consistency across all sources. All its digital inputs sound good at either CD-quality or higher resolution, streaming is
impressive and even the phono stage and radio are well done. The CD drive is obviously of fine quality, rather than just being there to make up the numbers. Each aspect of the unit is close in ability to all of the others, and this presents a solid and professional front. The centrepiece is that
unexpectedly capable amplifier, which – although not superhuman – is undoubtedly better than most.

If you’re looking to downsize your hi-fi, or simply for a great second system for another room – it represents fine value for money and consequently comes heartily recommended.

SD 5.2 HiFi Plus April 2015

In truth, I’m more impressed by what the SD 5.2 does so well, because there is so much good going on inside this AVM device. It does have excellent imagery, presenting an extremely three-dimensional soundstage. It does have oodles of detail, but in a coherent manner. It does that rooted-inplace solidity that many ‘next gen’ digital devices struggle with so much. It does have a projected vocal articulation that gives you a somewhere between ‘in the studio’ and ‘third row of the
stalls’ presentation. It does have effortless dynamics and great musical  ow. And it does have a  good foot-tapping nature.

The AVM Evolution SD 5.2 is the perfect example of audio done right for 2015. It’s a € ne replacement to about three or four separate devices in one simple box. It’s a joy to use, sounds excellent, and takes charge of all of your audio system as one good sounding hub. Highly recommended, for today and tomorrow.

HiDiamond

Diamond 7 speaker, HiFi World, June 2018

The clarity of the Diamond 7 speaker cables will highlight any deficiency in partnering equipment. They are ruthlessly revealing and so need top-notch separates to work a their best. They'll certainly show-up poor recordings or heavily compressed material.  

But partnered with the right amplifier and loudspeakers, there's a coherence and openness to their sound that makes them a joy to listen to.

Feed them some high-resolution tracks and the extra sonic information is evident. On Led Zeppelin's 'Dazed and Confused' (24/96) Jimmy Page's guitar solo leapt out of the speakers with crisp resolution. The decay of the notes also seemed to last a little loner making the whole listening experience extremely lifelike.

Alongside a revealing amplifier and loudspeakers they are something of a revelation.

Various Cables - Soundstage Australia, Nov 2017

HiDiamond D3 Balanced & D7 Single-Ended Interconnect & D7 Speaker Cables

Audio cable prices continue to sky rocket with statement pieces often costing as much, if not more, than the rest of a music system combined. Competing technologies continue to proliferate at a rate matched only by often garish advertising and boastful claims of patent (-ed) superiority. Cables are, of course, a crucial means of transferring those precious signals from your source to your speakers but are so system dependent that reviewing them causes me some trepidation in seeking to do so.

At the same time, it is always cool to be pleasantly surprised. I was previously unaware of the Italian HiDiamond brand or their price structure. When opening the neatly packaged boxes containing the D7 RCA interconnect, the top-of-XLR-line D3 balanced interconnect, and the D7 speaker cable, I was greeted by glitzy cable jackets in very shiny and thick silvery-grey livery which led to me to expect very high prices and a bombastic, in-your-face sound. The D3’s connectors are even adorned with Swarovski crystal that, to me, could have walked straight off the latest Valentino cat walk or Bowie’s get-up on the inside cover of Aladdin Sane.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. In my system, and when seriously burnt-in (I’m talking at least 500 hours) these cables distinguished themselves by a relaxed and even-handed neutrality and subtlety that belied their showy outer appearance. The HiDiamonds have a natural ease and lack of restriction, a spaciousness and free flowing musicality, a freedom from artifice and an honesty that belies what I now know to be their very reasonable prices. These cables are no mere variable “tone controls”. And truth be told, they do actually look more acceptable in situ than when first removed from their silk wrapping.

Diamond 8 speaker cable - YouTube

Interesting insight into the HiDiamond 8 speaker cable.

Diamond 8 - Audio Puls speaker cable review - Nov 2013

AudioPuls in Hungary conducted a review of 3 2,000 EUR plus cables in Nov 2013. Cables included the American Audience Au24 E, the Italian HiDiamond Diamond 8 and the Dutch Siltech LS-88 MK2 Classic. They scored the HiDiamond 9/10, the Audience 8/10 and the  SIltech 7/10.

HiDiamond has the richest sound, the richest soundstage; Siltech's hit on a snare drum sounds good, snare drum has a nice body, however it lacks more sustain, details, breath, small micro dynamics; both Audience and HiDiamond have great vocals and palpable instruments, but Diamond 8 is in general better; bass region is excellent with both Audience and HiDiamond (deep, tight, tonally correct, fast, with appropriate volume, well defined), but HiDiamond's bass goes deeper and it's more tough as nails; both Audience and HiDiamond are excellent cables, but Diamond 8 is in overal better: vocals are bigger and fuller with more resonance, sustain in bass is better, snare drum has a larger body, dynamic abilities are better, the sound is more energetic, guitar strings sound just better.

Gauder Akustik

Arcona 40 - Stereoplay, Oct 2013

In our listening sessions it took only a few bars of music to appreciate what a jewel Gauder has developed in the Arcona 40. Using their recommended stand and after a short warm-up period this small speaker proved itself to be both gripping and transparent. The accuracy and neutrality that the Arcona displays over the entire frequency range is rarely found in its price range. The previous market leaders at or around 2,000 Euros were quickly displaced. They simply can’t compete in the area of tonal accuracy.

Arcona 100 - Audio Test, Jan 2014

The Arcona 100 crossover design with slopes of more than 50dB/octave, something few would even dare to attempt, results in there being minimal overlap in frequencies across the drivers and produces a focused center image with the sonic approximation of a point source. Emotion is the keyword here, and proves that loudspeaker design isn't just a question of mathematics. Sonically similar to the whole Gauder Akustik range, the Arcona 100 allows voices and fundamental instruments, even at low listening levels, to sound great. These speakers produce a large and generous sound stage which operqates as if detached from the loudspeakers. Both smaller recording venues and grand church halls are recreated faithfully by reverberations in the mind's eye of the beholde, which confirms the speaker's transparency.

Berlina RC 7, Positive Feedback, Dec 2013

The Berlina RC7 offers plenty of sparkle and extension in the treble without a hint of being dry or forward. Ditto the midrange. All the drivers offer a speedy clarity while still possessing a rich tonality of sonic splendor. Nothing hyper about the Berlin=a RC7 and nothing appears to be lost ot hidden either - all rather natural and right. The loudspeakers offer a big sound that is engaging and rather robust while never being coloured or lacking in detail and resolution. All that audiophile stuff that people want - Berlina 7 has all that in spades without drawing attention to the specifics.

DARC 100, Stereo Magazine, Issue 17 2018

It is fascinating how the DARC 100 loudspeakers seem to no longer exist – with open, but even more so with closed eyes. They appear to only spread the energy of the sound events they radiate. When the just mentioned bells are ringing, they can be clearly assigned to their tonal origin, while still distributing their energy over the heads of the listener and throughout the room. The Gauder succeeds in combining perceivability with power in the middle range and detailing, each on a qualitative level that is spectacular and outstanding even in the respective individual disciplines. A fusion of these qualities into one was a new and extremely enjoyable experience.

We continued on the classical path for a while and were simply enraptured by how the Gauder  presented voices and orchestras with various operas from Puccini to Bellini and Verdi (yes, these Italians!) in a very soulful manner, while clearly separating one from the other, without tearing up the stage. The seamless, dynamically impressive and tonally perfectly balanced reproduction was all the more fascinating because only the music was present, with the necessary transducers disappearing entirely – at least in terms of acoustics.

DARC 100 - SoundRebels 2018

I am almost certain, that most acolytes of brand will not believe in what I will write now, but without stretching the facts I am claiming, that the newest series of speakers, with the shadowy name  DARC, is advocating a way of sounding which is very close to its name, dark. There is no obtrusiveness or brightening, Gauder speakers are often accused of, we just get a sound, which is very strong and directed to release the energy of the recording. You do not believe me? Frankly speaking I was also surprised and could not believe my eyes, or rather ears, that a company constructing loudspeakers, very well known to me, put some extra meat in their products. Well, I will also immediately cut short any suspicions about mudding. There is absolutely nothing like that in the sound. In this idea for reproducing notes we have everything. Beginning with strong bass, loaded  with seismic energy, through surprisingly dark, I would even call it juicy, for ceramic drivers, midrange to beady treble, thanks to the diamond tweeter, which soothed my ears. But how does this fare when confronted with music? I assure you, it looks very interesting, but different depending on the repertoire. All music emphasizing rebellion and, so called, kick, was for sure the grist to the mill of those speakers. The creations of groups like Massive Attack or Acid were just phenomenal. When the musicians tried to move my furniture with low, synthetic murmurs, I always had to hold the pile of CDs placed on my table to prevent them from falling. And in situations, when vocals entered, interrupted with whizzes and swishes, I got a solid part of throat action. This was really something, comparable with the best speakers I heard to date. What was most surprising, even after prolonged period of loud listening (you are supposed to listen to such repertoire loud) I did not have ear fatigue due to shouting, analytical sound or similar, it was just a natural reaction to the music, which was tonally balanced. Yes, yes, listening to the newest product of Mr. Gauder there is no mercy.

It turned out, that those small, even for German reality, speakers, instead of giving us a taste of what to expect in the flagship series, provided with over the top dynamics and outstanding resolution can bring us “audiophile nirvana”. And that from speakers which have an acceptable size.

Vescova - Stereo Magazine Issue 14 2018

The strictly selected ceramic drivers of the two-and-a-half-way Vescova speaker are the cornerstones of the sound experience. Despite a compact size, the speaker sounds dynamic, deep and crisp, is  easy going about placement, and delivers a solid spatial representation.

We were instantly impressed with the way the speakers were able to present Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” - no easy fare at all - in a comprehensible way, creating access and revealing the structure of the music. Dave Holland’s deep double bass sounded crisp and dry, and Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet stood freely in the room, open, airy and harmonious. That was fun!

On an analogue record by David Wilson with Julie Steinberg on the Steinway Model D concert grand and David Abel on a Guarneri violin, fluidity and warmth went hand in hand with the best impulse fidelity, while the final round was played by Queen’s “Made in Heaven”, released four years after the death of frontman Freddie Mercury. Nothing was annoying, the bass was tight and clearly defined, reaching deep when required without any confusion, and Mr. Mercury was standing in the room, focused and realistically scaled. Wonderful stuff.

Cassiano - Sound Rebels 2016

So I reached for George Michael, but instead of taking something pop-rock or ballad like, the  Symphonica” (Deluxe Edition) caught my sight. The warm, electrifying voice of the vocalist, who was well disposed at time, and very relaxed, was shown with phenomenal resolution and an almost  holographic realism by the German loudspeakers. On one hand he was most important, but the orchestra that accompanied him and the crowd gathered in the room were full-fledged parts of the  spectacle. The smoothness, clarity of the sound went hand in hand with power, swing native to big ensembles, while even the smallest details did not lose anything from their visibility, regardless if they were located in the first, or further planes. But this was just the background of the expressive, almost ecstatic articulation of Michael. This was not just another concert to go through, get your money and go home. In addition, taking into the compilation character of the disc, the Gauder were  ble to keep coherence of sound between the individual pieces, while not averaging them, just showing the listener their common parts. Despite the common opinions about the quite conservative manner of presenting timbre and saturation of the Accuton, even during the sibilant loaded “Let Her Down Easy” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” the treble and midrange were characterized with masterful temperature and firmness. Of course it will be easy to find loudspeakers, which will show a more illuminated, slightly inflated sound – for example my Arcona with the AMT on the treble, but this will be a departure from neutrality towards obvious pleasure.

But the true rollercoaster started with the “New Blood” Peter Gabriel and the first notes of “The  Rhythm of the Heat”. Those more vivid tempos were as waking as an espresso doppio, and only the shaky, almost anemic voice of Ane Brun in “Don’t Give Up” lowered the blood pressure. I absolutely do not understand, what this vocalist has in her, and what Peter Gabriel sees in her, but on me she works like a relaxant drug, and every time I hear her version of this song, I immediately must serve myself the antidote, the only true version sung by Kate Bush on “So”. The loudspeakers had similar taste, because the difference in realism and palpability of the voices of both ladies was overwhelming.

 

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